Most video game reboots stink.  But not the last Final Fantasy.

Most video game reboots stink. But not the last Final Fantasy.

One of the most anticipated video games of the year isn’t exactly new. He is 15 years old. And it’s a prequel to an even older game.

The new game is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, which is slated for release next week. It is a reboot of a handheld game with almost the same name from 2007, except with nicer graphics and accelerated battles so that it can be resold for modern systems including newer PlayStation consoles, Xbox and Nintendo. It’s also a prequel to another reboot of the game, 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Video game reboots are nothing new and, boy, have there been a lot of them lately. This year, game studios released refreshed versions of popular titles like The Last of Us, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Tactics Ogre, among others.

With La Réunion, Final Fantasy creator Square Enix is ​​capitalizing on the nostalgia business. Final Fantasy, originally released in 1987, became a blockbuster when the game’s seventh installment debuted in 1997. In this game, players took on the role of Cloud, an angsty mercenary working with a group of misfits to prevent the ‘apocalypse.

Since then, Final Fantasy VII has become one of the most influential games in history, spawning spinoffs, animated films, and fanfiction. The game has been re-released at least half a dozen times across all major gaming platforms including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. It’s a juggernaut – and Reunion is playing its part in keeping this franchise going.

Most video game reboots don’t do much more than up the graphics resolution to look better on new TVs, but Reunion is different. With completely overhauled visuals and smoother gameplay, it’s much better than the original. It’s a strong example of how to do a reboot with justice and maintain a well-established title with a very safe bet.

“We can see the audience for these characters and the Final Fantasy VII franchise better than if we were to do something that didn’t already have some recognition,” said Yoshinori Kitase, Square Enix’s executive producer for Reunion, per through a translator. .

I finished Reunion last week after playing some of the original Crisis Core. Changes to battles and visuals have transformed the game from an average episode into a must-watch Final Fantasy installment, whose cachet in the gaming world rivals that of “Star Wars” in pop culture. (To put it another way, Reunion is Final Fantasy’s “Rogue One” – the prequel we deserve.)

Reunion is also an extreme take on a “remaster,” which is video game parlance for an older game that has had its graphics scaled up to look better on newer TVs. Since Square Enix originally released Crisis Core for a portable gaming device, the outdated PlayStation Portable, the graphics had to be redone for modern systems.

Now, the pixelated, expressionless faces of the characters from the original have been replaced with detailed, realistic cups; the dull backgrounds of city streets and dungeons have become rich in color and texture.

The game’s producers have also gone the extra step to fix the most annoying aspect of the original – the combat system – to make progressing through the game faster and more fun. It’s a smart solution in a time when people have limitless options for other things to do if they get bored with a video game.

In addition, Square Enix left the Crisis Core story intact, including its scenario carried by voice actors. The game centers around Zack Fair, a member of the elite military force, Soldier, which is controlled by Shinra, the world-dominating power company.

Zack is tasked with finding a pair of comrades who have deserted Shinra. It’s no spoiler to say that our hero meets a tragic end, a fact well known to fans of the franchise for over two decades. But the prequel chronicles how his legacy contributed to the epic events of Final Fantasy VII.

Still, while Reunion’s graphics are a marked improvement over the original, the game isn’t as polished or as produced as its sibling, Final Fantasy VII Remake.

That’s because Reunion is essentially an intermission to a much bigger show. Its primary goal, according to Square Enix, is to keep gamers hooked on the franchise between releases of Final Fantasy VII Remake, which sold 3.5 million copies in its first three days in 2020, which which makes it one of the best-selling PlayStation 4 games. . This remake is spread out in installments that will be released every two to three years. (Episode 2 is slated for release next winter, nearly three years after Episode 1, and the series will end with Episode 3.)

“It’s going to be a long wait,” Mr. Yoshinori said. “So we want to make sure we keep those fans on board and interested..”

Even so, this intermission is a crowd pleaser. The game gives plenty of airtime to Aerith, Sephiroth, and Cloud, the stars of Final Fantasy VII, fleshing out these characters and setting the stage for the epic game.

In terms of gameplay, Reunion takes a new approach to battles. Players can freely control Zack in 3D space, swinging his giant sword at a monster and dodging its attacks between bombardments with magic spells. This feels more challenging than the old-school “turn-based” system, where players traded blows with an enemy by pressing a button to trigger an action, then waiting for the enemy to take their turn.

The biggest problem with the original Crisis Core battle system was the Digital Mind Wave, which is essentially a slot machine constantly running in the background of every fight. When the reels land on certain combinations, special attacks are unleashed that can annihilate enemies.

In the original, the slot machine was loud and downright obnoxious, interrupting a battle to play its animations. Luckily, it’s been toned down to run silently in the background, and when the slot unlocks a bonus, players can press a button to activate it whenever they want and even skip the animations.

Reunion also streamlines the grinding experience, which traditionally involves doing repetitive (often mind-numbing) fights to get strong enough to continue the game. Instead of walking around and fighting random enemies, players can engage in optional missions, which deploy Zack to take out a specific enemy. In this process, players can level up and gather useful items and magic spells to help them on their main journey.

In the end, it took me about 18 hours to finish the game, and I had fun (unlike my experience with the original Crisis Core, which I stopped playing after four hours because the fights were so tedious ). My main complaint is that the game was too easy. After completing a small number of optional missions, players will find themselves overpowered and defeating the main villains of the game in a few effortless moves.

Some gamers eager for new titles may think releasing reboots is too easy for game makers like Square Enix. Mr. Yoshinori said the risk of the reboot was that they might end up attracting just one demographic of older fans. The company originally planned to do a smaller Crisis Core refresh with minor visual improvements, but once it became clear that Final Fantasy VII Remake had attracted a lot of new fans, the mission changed to attract those players. also.

“We decided halfway through development that we needed to improve the game,” he said.

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